Study Guide

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

by Robert Coover

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The unsuspecting first-time reader of The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. will find its first few pages confusing: A character named J. Henry Waugh, greatly excited, seems to be watching not simply an ordinary baseball game but a no-hit game in progress. Henry looks first at the sun, high over the ballpark, then at his watch, but the watch reads almost eleven o’clock, and any American reader knows that major-league baseball is not played in the morning. The confusion intensifies when Henry thinks that it may be a long night—night?—with the sun high over the park? During the seventh-inning stretch, Henry leaves his apartment and goes to the delicatessen downstairs to buy a sandwich. Henry must be watching the game on television, then.

The mystery is resolved soon, though, when it becomes clear that the game is being played only in Henry’s mind. The contest is indeed a game, one directed with dice according to a set of rules of Henry’s devising, and played by characters existing only in his imagination.

The richly colorful world of the Universal Baseball Association, known only to Henry, contrasts strongly with his humdrum existence as an accountant. Henry is a bachelor with numerous acquaintances but apparently only one friend—another accountant named Lou Engel. Yet there seems a fitness in Henry’s attraction to, even fanaticism about, baseball. It is overwhelmingly a game of record keeping: wins and losses, batting averages, earned-run averages, and all the other statistical paraphernalia by which the baseball fan measures out his life and admiration.

Henry prefers the world located in his apartment’s kitchen. He has invented not simply a game—he has created an entire eight-team league and played out fifty-five full seasons by the opening of the novel. The number of UBA seasons (always given in Roman numerals in the novel, for example, LVI) has caught up to the fifty-six-year-old Henry’s age, a fact which seems significant to him. For only part of his passion is the rolling out of the games themselves. He has recorded each game on a scorecard, maintained all the records and statistics, and even created biographies and personalities for each of the players on each club’s twenty-one-man roster. Just as players do in real life, Henry’s players grow old and...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Henry is a lonely, middle-aged accountant who invents a fantasy baseball game based on dice and complex charts. Henry becomes more and more involved with the game, creating biographies for the players, factoring in crowd reactions. The game is infinitely more interesting than his real life and gradually takes over. Henry becomes more alienated from his job and his colleagues, arriving at work late and carrying his players in his imagination at all times. After lengthy play, Henry begins to get bored, but a talented rookie, Damon Rutherford, saves the game, and Henry’s interest surges.

Henry is particularly attached to Damon, who is like a son to him. Then a throw of the dice dictates Damon’s death, when a ball strikes him in the head and kills him. Henry is devastated by his loss, and for the first time changes the rules of the game, cheating so that Jock Casey, whose pitch killed Damon, also dies by a roll of the dice. Thanks to Casey’s sacrifice, the game itself has been saved. The novel’s first seven chapters are narrated in the third-person voice, from Henry’s point of view; in the final, eighth chapter, Henry does not appear. Rather, the last chapter details the yearly ritual of “Damonsday,” something like a passion play in which players reenact the games in which Rutherford and Casey died. The characters Henry created now have lives of their own; they have been set free from their maker.

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. manifests many biblical parallels. The structure of the novel reflects the seven days of creation, with a final chapter to suggest the Apocalypse. J. Henry Waugh reminds one of Yahweh, or God the Creator, and Henry does, in fact, create a world. His absence from that world reflects the modern world, in which God’s existence is contested, affirmed, denied, and ultimately unprovable.